The future of web and location based apps

We have written before about the rise and competition of location based social networks (lbs) that enable mobile web user to make actions based on their whereabouts, like checking in to a restaurant, club or store, receiving information about nearby locations or seeing where their friends are hanging out.

But the the big question is: Should that be everything? Even if users might benefit from seeing who else is a regular visitor of a location or from knowing that a good friend is close-by, and even if they might get rewards for checking in often at a specific shop, using applications like Foursquare or Gowalla is still mainly a pure fun activity without deeper purpose and nothing that really helps you improving your daily live. I’m sure the majority of lbs users would agree with me on that.

Fortunately we have Robert Scoble, the Silicon Valley uber-geek, who recently wrote a guest article for TechCrunch, outlining his vision of how location based services will work and interact with other apps two years from now. And his ideas are compelling.

Basically, Scoble sees Foursquare as the heart of an ecosystem of apps that serve users in different ways. Instead of just checking in with Foursquare (or any other location based service that you would want to see in Foursquare’s position), the app would be connected through APIs with other web services and could trigger actions on those external tools.

In Scoble’s world, Foursquare could help notify a meeting partner about when he (Scoble) approximately will arrive (via Glympse). It could make Plancast, a “check-in” service for future events, inform Scoble about upcoming events in the immediate vicinity, and it could initiate a concert ticket search with Siri, the personal assistant service bought by Apple.

So instead of users making a lot of manual tasks separated from each other, one app would automatically talk to another app, based on a person’s location.

Scoble continues to explain how this chain reaction of app requests could trigger Yelp, the US review site, to search for popular and positively reviewed restaurants close to the concert venue. Afterwards, he would count on Blippy and Expensify to provide credit card statements and expense reports.

What Scoble describes is the end of the “information silos”, which means all those neat web services many of us are using on a daily basis, but that don’t talk to each other, and that can’t leverage the information and data we are spreading on the web, since it is pushed into information silos and can’t get out there anymore.

Actually you don’t need to be Robert Scoble to see all this happening. The whole process has started years ago when the first consumer focused web tools got developer APIs. APIs are the tools that help to open and tear down the information silos. Service A will be able talk to service B which could connect to service C. Suddenly all the information you gave service B can be accessed by A and C – if you authorized them – and they can learn about your preferences and interests. Suddenly a check-in at Foursquare would be much more meaningful, because Yelp (as an example) could use this information to improve its own results, to adjust them to you and to provide you with assistance without you even having to enter a manual search query on their website.

Location based services would allow for a much more personalized web experience, and they could make people’s everyday life much easier.

But as everything, there is a flip side, too. One challenge is that since many services are connected and relying on each other, if one part of the system fails, the rest would be affected as well. The more parties and APIs are involved, the higher the risk that at any given time, at least one would be struggling.

A second concern is more a theoretical one. But I wonder what it would mean for mankind if people “outsource” more and more task to machines. Could it happen that we lose our capabilities of managing and handling the most simple issues because we have gotten used to that they are taken care of by computers?

I’m not sure if this actually is something to be concerned about. But it might be worth a thought. In any case, connected web apps have the potential to increase our quality of life in many ways. So I’m looking forward to 2012!

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

3 thoughts on “The future of web and location based apps

  1. tina June 9, 2010 / 3:27 pm

    more functionality in one lbs app is a great thing and seamless integration is a fantastic vision.
    we at townster totally believe in it – give me a ping if you want more info on what we are planning to release in the coming days, martin. 😉

  2. martinweigert June 10, 2010 / 3:03 pm

    Tina, keep me posted 🙂

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